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Hidden extra: a French oak barrel can cost $1,800, the equivalent of 300 bottles of wine

Last week, I wrote of some of the factors that establish the price of a wine, today, I will add another most important one — an oak barrel.

It is easy to pay $1,800 or more for a French one, that holds the equivalent of 300 bottles of wine, so if you are using them once (100 per cent new oak) the initial cost to the winery is $6 per bottle.

I submit that many $40+ priced bottles may use new, but most others will keep barrels for a few years.

American oak barrels (quercus alba) cost less than French, as the way that the grains run allows the wood to be split in a way that results in far less wastage.

Both oaks add their own flavour profile, but the use of either will concentrate the wine, as about 10 per cent (mostly alcohol and water) evaporates through the pores each year.

French may add cedar, cigar box, chocolate, allspice, nutmeg and cloves; American, vanilla, honey, caramel, roasted nuts, coconut, roast coffee and cocoa. Both add a level of smoke depending on a light, medium or heavy toasting of the wood to heat and bend the staves.

Monte Antico 2014 Tuscan Red comes under the classification of Super Tuscan because it is a blend of 85 per cent Sangiovese with 10 per cent merlot and 5 per cent cabernet sauvignon. This is what they do with oak which contributes towards it selling for only $18.70.

Eighty per cent is aged in five to six-year-old Slavonian oak; 20 per cent new and second-year French oak adds to the mix.

The winery states: “A true Tuscan classic! Deep ruby colour with garnet reflections and an elegant bouquet of leather, black cherries, liquorice and plums; a medium to a full-bodied palate, rich in ripe red fruit, goût de terroir, subtle notes of vanilla and violet that are well integrated with the soft tannins and silky texture.”

I can back this up by saying that James Suckling rates it 91/100. It even has a convenient screw-cap.

Dr Loosen L Riesling 2017 embodies the delicate and racy characteristics of traditional, slate-soil Mosel vineyards at a very affordable price for everyday enjoyment. It is a bright, vibrant, fruit-driven wine, with a juicy mid-palate and a crisp finish.

A lowish alcohol content of 8.5 per cent is a big clue that not all the sugar has fermented out and I will remind you that percentage sugar equals half that percentage in alcohol. For instance, if a ripe grape is 25 per cent sugar and it is fully fermented, then the alcohol in the wine will be very near to 12.5 per cent. This wine exhibits a traditional touch of delicious sweetness. Wine Enthusiast Magazine classifies it a “best buy” and rates it 88/100. $19.85.

Marqués de Riscal 1860 2017 tempranillo is named for the year in which this Spanish winery opened its doors and it gives us a wine that has an intense, black cherry colour, with violet glints. Red berries and liquorice dominate the nose. On the palate it is fresh, round and not very tannic, with a fruity finish.

North American oak is very popular in Spain and this wine, that contains 15 per cent syrah, spends time in a combination of this along with French barrels. For those of you that have not spent enough time in Miami or New York City to be fluent in Spanish, this grape of Spain is pronounced tehm-prah-née-oh. $18.10.

Another 91/100 pointer from James Suckling is our Veramonte 2017 Pinot Noir from the Casablanca Valley in Chile that has expressive aromas of raspberries, red cherries and strawberries. It is a delicate and fresh wine with balanced tannins and a silky mouthfeel. I cannot tell you that this wine is organic but their latest labels are stating this and, as it takes a few years to achieve this qualification, I feel comfortable in saying that these grapes have been very naturally farmed. $19.95.

Cono Sur 2017 Bicicleta Sauvignon Blanc from Chile does everything that it should as it expresses citrus notes of pink grapefruit and green apple along with the expected herbal hints. It’s finished with a minerally freshness and like their chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, merlot and pinot noir in this “Bicicleta” range, it sells for $16.45.

I do not often quote winecurmudgeon.com as they can be a tad grumpy, but the following is a very fair comment: “Hence, it’s red meat wine — I drank it with a roasted lamb shank and white beans, and it was spot-on. But it’s also meat loaf and takeout chicken, the sort of thing for a middle of the week dinner. Because where would we be without wines like that?”

The site madwine.com says of the same wine: “This wine is easy and soft.

“It has a backdrop of dusty tannins as well as ripe black fruits. The acidity and the generous structure give it a rich character that makes it accessible young. Drink from 2018.”

The wine they both refer to is Georges Vigouroux Pigmentum 2017 Malbec that hails from the Cahors region of France where this grape was first planted about 500 years ago.

Vine clippings left the area in the mid-1800s bound for Argentina, where it now accounts for about 70 per cent of all worldwide plantings.

The French tend to have firm tannins, blackberry and plum; Argentina is more fruit-forward and velvety.

I have stood between a row of vines in Mendoza consisting of grafts from grapes that arrived in the 1850s, and a row of very recent imports.

It is easy to spot the difference as the “old” grapes were quite large and the newest much smaller. If he were here, I am sure that Charles Darwin would explain how climate and terroir can cause gradual evolutionary mutations. $18.25.

This column is an advertorial for Burrows Lightbourn Ltd. E-mail mrobinson@bll.bm or 295-0176. Burrows Lightbourn has stores in Hamilton (Front Street East, 295-1554), Paget (Harbour Road, 236-0355) and St George (York Street, 297-0409) Visit www.wineonline.bm